Barack Obama, the US president, says he is looking for immigration reform to be completed within six months, adding “now is the time” for action.
“I can guarantee that I will put everything I have behind it,” Obama said in an interview with Telemundo, one of two he conducted on Wednesday with Spanish-language television networks.
Obama said a deal should be attainable this year, but he wanted one even sooner. He said that politics, not technical issues, were standing in the way.
A group of Senators, both Democrats and Republicans, has agreed on a framework for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
In the Republican-controlled House, another group of legislators was working on its own proposal.
Obama is promoting his own set of principles similar to those included in the Senate plan, but he has not been directly involved in the Senate’s negotiations.
If Congress delays, he said, “I’ve got a bill drafted, we’ve got language” ready to offer Capitol Hill.
Obama offered his own principles on immigration at an appearance in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
He pushed for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants that is faster than the one the Senate group proposed.
Path to citizenship
Rather than emphasise border security first as the Senators want, he would let undocumented immigrants get on a path to citizenship if they undergo national security and criminal background checks, pay penalties, learn English and get behind those foreigners seeking to immigrate legally.
Asked by the Univision network about Republican criticism of his proposals, particularly from a Hispanic senator, Marco Rubio, Obama argued his administration had already done much work on securing the US border with Mexico.
“Look, we put border security ahead of a pathway to citizenship. We have done more on border security in the last four years than we have done in the previous 20,” Obama said.
“We’ve actually done almost everything that Republicans asked to be done several years ago as a precondition to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform.”
Obama offered to meet publicly or privately with Rubio and other Senators to try to move the process forward.
The border security issue may be the toughest the two sides will have to overcome to reach the type of comprehensive overhaul that Washington has talked about for years, but has been unable to execute.
After years on the back burner, immigration reform has suddenly looked possible as Republicans, chastened by Latino voters who rejected them in the November election, appear more willing to accept an overhaul.
Congress is not grappling with two major issues – immigration and Obama’s efforts to tighten gun regulations.
The president told Univision he believed Congress could handle both at the same time.